Pope Benedict XVI
German Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, was born in 1927. He served as his predecessor's chief enforcer of church doctrine. While not technically a member of Opus Dei, he is an admitted admirer of the fundamentalist group and was their chosen candidate. Ratzinger has also taken controversial stances on political issues, including suggesting that politicians who do not oppose abortion should be denied communion (this was in reference to John Kerry) and opposing Turkish membership in the European Union.
In terms of church doctrine, Ratzinger is as far right as they get. He opposes abortion, is against women in the church, opposes birth control, and does not favour priests getting married. In this morning's Washington Post, Ratzinger was described as a brilliant, tough-minded intellectual who started out as moderately liberal and -- like so many American neoconservatives -- developed a mistrust of the left because of the student revolt of the 1960s. He once said that "the 1968 revolution" turned into "a radical attack on human freedom and dignity, a deep threat to all that is human."
Reaction to the selection has been far from positive. A poll conducted on Daily Kos shows only 1% of the site's readers approve of his selection. Meanwhile, reaction on the BBC's website has been almost as negative. Here's a brief sampling:
Choosing a conservative Pope will send the wrong message to millions of potential converts living in already overpopulated countries and those trying to cope with the Aids epidemic in Africa.
Bruce, White Rock, Canada
Why in a time of evolving consciousness and expansion of progressive thought would they choose someone who is a reactionary to be the new Pope? Well, clearly because of that fact, the conservatives of the world are trying to stem the tide of progress, equality, freedom, and diversity. Perhaps his cold efficiency will remind people that the Pope is just another politician.
Josh Borden, Santa Monica, California
Exactly what is needed - a staunch conservative to remind the world how anachronistic and outmoded the Catholic Church has become. With any luck, as those who dare to think for themselves get further alienated, perhaps there is a glimmer of hope for a world free from organised religion.
While most of the criticism does center around the new Pope's far right wing views, a vocal minority has expressed outrage about his youth in Germany. In fact, a few Daily Kos readers referred to him as "Natzinger" and one poster even went so far as to say "They had to elect Ratzinger today, because tomorrow is Hitler's birthday. That's a little too close to home."
The source of these comments is the fact that Ratzinger was a member of the Hitler Youth, served in an Anti-Aircraft Unit in Munich as a teenager and was briefly a full member of the army. He fled his unit in the last days of the war and was captured by the Americans. Ratzinger, and his biographer, claim that he was never a willing member of the Nazi Party. They further argue that his time in the regime convinced him that the Church needed to stand up for truth and freedom. Opponents claim it taught him to suppress discussion - as he has during his time as chief enforcer of orthodoxy.
In essence, Cardinal Ratzinger is a reactionary who will likely be viewed with disdain by liberals around the world. As a deist, the Pope's selection has no spiritual underpinnings for me. My only experience with Catholicism came as a small child when my family traveled to Rome. Upon seeing the Papal estates, I asked my parents who owned them. Somewhat bewildered, they replied that nobody really did, but that if anyone did then it was the Pope. In the clarion voice that only children are capable of producing, I then screamed "the Pope's a poop". My family was quickly asked to leave the holy city.
Well, I may have been wrong about Pope John Paul II. Pope Benedict XVI, however, definitely appears to be a poop. In fact, the only good thing I can say about him is that at age 78 his papacy is not likely to be a long one. Thank goodness for small favours.